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History Of The Oxford Shirt

From Derby shoes to Tuxedo suits to cardigans, menswear items with a placename in the title originates from that part of the world. Refreshingly – and confusingly – the Oxford shirt rebels against this.

The Oxford actually originated in Scotland in the Nineteenth century, when mills started manufacturing the textured fabric of the shirt we know today – a distinctive basket-weave pattern that combines two yarns woven lengthwise against a heavier yarn crosswise that, when contrasted in colour, gives a distinctive marled effect.

At the time this was being produced alongside three other fabrics also named after famous University towns: Yale, Cambridge and Harvard. A coincidental premonition of the fabric’s preppy future-to-be, perhaps?

While the other three fabrics gradually fell into obscurity, Oxford fabric ensured its survival in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries. It was at this time that polo players in the British Raj adopted it for their game shirt, recognising that its unique, light weave ensured maximum breathability during matches in the stifling Indian sun. It was at this time that players also added buttons to their collars to stop them flapping in their faces in the wind – and thus the button-down shape we know today was born.

This caught the eye of John E Brooks, one of the four grandsons of Henry Sands Brooks in charge of the burgeoning American tailoring company Brooks Brothers. Noting this practise, Brooks also started applying buttons to the collars of his dress shirts. This was the moment the Oxford shirt’s connection with the prep-tastic American East Coast was sealed. Only a year before in 1895 Brooks Brothers had introduced the relaxed, now-iconic Ivy League sack suit (notable for its relaxed shoulder jacket shape), cementing the store as the default dresser of the most moneyed, upwardly mobile young men in the USA. And when these young men bought their suits, guess what items they also bought in store to slip underneath?

In an ironic twist, by the 1950s the Oxford shirt now dominated the wardrobes of male students in Harvard and Yale – the two brother fabrics initially produced alongside it a century previously.

OLIVER CLASSIC
White Classic Fit Oxford Shirt

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OLIVER CLASSIC
Grey Steel Classic Fit Oxford Shirt

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OLIVER CLASSIC
Pale Mist Classic Fit Oxford Shirt

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OLIVER CLASSIC
Navy Classic Fit Oxford Shirt

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However, the evolution of the Oxford shirt didn’t just stop while Teruyoshi Hayashida was snapping shots for his preppy style bible Take Ivy. Much like denim jeans or Doc Martens boots, the shirt was adapted to suit a whole swathe of youth movements as the Twentieth century moved on. First, on the “Jivy Ivy” jazz scene in America in the 1960s, with artists such as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane sporting the style; and then in the 1970s with Mods, who wore traditional Ivy League staples with cool, colourful suiting as a part of their rebellion against the bland menswear of post-War Britain.

Because of this adaptability, this shirt has one of the strongest CVs of any item a man could own – no wonder that it’s the cornerstone of most men’s armouries today. Not only can it adapt to any personal style easily, but it can also adapt to any situation. Dressed up with a tie and a blazer or thrown on with your swimming shorts at the bar poolside, it’s a seriously hard working addition to your wardrobe – and one that is clearly set to stay that way for hundreds of years to come.

Why OB has made a brilliant Oxford



Let’s start with the material. The fabric is woven using a traditional basketweave structure to make a classic, soft and hard wearing pinpoint oxford. However, the cut of the shirt is what makes this a wardrobe essential – a slim cut with high arm holes to accentuate that time you’ve put in at the gym and a slim waist that makes it just as suitable for tucking in as for layering over your summer shorts.

A foolproof outfit suggestion from our A/W16 collection including an Oxford



If, like me, you have trouble regulating your body temperature in-between the blast furnace-like temperatures of the Tube and the office air conditioning, then layers are the only way to survive. Rather than a jumper, which I find tends to leave the shirt underneath all crumpled upon removal, I prefer to go for a T-shirt under my Oxford with an easily-removable light jacket on top. I have then paired those shades of blue with a pair of go-anywhere beige chinos.

A former boss once told me that in order to look smart a man should only wear a maximum of three colours at once – solid advice that has served me well which I’m now passing along to you. Use it wisely and spread the word to your fellow man – with great power comes great sartorial responsibility.

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